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Pharmacists’ Liability for Improperly Dispensing Prescription Drugs

Pharmacists’ Basic Duties

A pharmacist has three basic duties: to store prescription drugs properly, to prepare prescription drugs properly, and to dispense prescription drugs correctly. If the dispensing pharmacist fails to perform any of these duties, he or she could be held liable if a patient experiences a drug-related injury.
Dispensing Prescription Drugs

A pharmacist is responsible for dispensing the drug that has been prescribed in the correct dosage. What if a pharmacist dispenses the correct drug in a slightly different formula? What if he/she dispenses a generic drug for a brand name drug? What if the pharmacist dispenses a drug without inquiring about an unclear or incomplete description of the drug?

Highest Degree of Care

As a general rule, a pharmacist is held to the highest standard of care and is not allowed to make even a slight substitution in the drug that has been prescribed by a doctor. For example, a Wisconsin patient was given a prescription. The patient was allergic to mercury. When the dispensing pharmacist filled the prescription, he used a compound that contained a small amount of mercury. The pharmacist was unaware of the patient’s mercury allergy. The appellate court held that although it was reasonable for the pharmacist to suppose that the medicine he supplied was just as good the one prescribed by the doctor, the risk of harm from making the substitution outweighed any possible benefit from making the substitution.

Negligence Per Se

Courts in both Mississippi and Maine have found that a pharmacist who dispenses an improper prescription drug to a patient can be held negligent as a matter of law. Negligence per se is negligence without question because of the violation of a law that imposes on the pharmacist a duty with regard to the patient.

Improper Dispensing of Prescription Drugs

A pharmacist is required to use a high standard of care in dispensing drugs on prescriptions of physicians. When he or she negligently supplies a drug other than the drug prescribed, the pharmacist is generally liable for any resulting harm to the patient. However, a pharmacist is allowed to substitute a generic drug for a brand name drug if the prescription authorizes the substitution. In addition, the patient may be allowed to request a generic drug, which is less expensive, unless the physician specifically has stated that no substitution is permitted. Finally, a pharmacist who dispenses a less effective form of a generic drug, simply because it is cheaper could be liable if any harm results from the substitution.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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